Race the Sun Hands-on Preview

Trying to race the Sun is significantly misunderstanding physics.

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Race the Sun is a high-score game. I feel like that should be a genre of it’s own. Sure Super Hexagon, Canabalt and Titan Assault are all considerably different games, but at their heart, you’re just trying to get the highest score and that’s what drives you. They lead you to the ‘one more turn’ mentality where you’re absolutely sure you can eke out another 100,000 points if you just try it one more time, but veer a little to the left this time. In Race the Sun you’re piloting a solar powered hovering jet plane thing as it streaks across an abstract geometric landscape. Since you’re solar powered, you need to get as far as possible before the Sun sets while collecting points along the way. We’ve put some time in with an early version of the game to bring you our impressions.

The controls are simple, you can press left or right to veer left or right, and then you can press space or W or up to do a jump if you have a jump power up stored. As with all of the greatest high-score games, simplicity really is key. As you progress through the levels you get faster and faster, and your craft is always slightly less responsive than you’d like. Thankfully it moves in curves, so once you get to grips with the way it controls you can appear quite graceful as beautifully demonstrated in a video of my playthrough below.

The blue gates you see are called tris, they’re what build up the majority of your points. If you go through them, you get 100 points and if you go through lots of them without hitting anything, you build up a multiplier which increases their value. This leads to an interesting risk/reward mechanic as you always want a slightly higher score but smash too hard into something and it’s game over. Merely grazing an object will slow you down and as the Sun sets you quickly find it impossible to progress.

The Sun setting is a brilliant mechanic and something truly original. Because your craft is solar powered, as the Sun goes down the shadows of objects get longer, thus leaving you less space to maneuver without slowing down. Your craft can carry on for a good while without light, and it recharges almost instantly, but towards the end you find yourself desperately clinging to every little bit of light you can find. This coupled with the increasingly active environment and horrific speed make the game suddenly get quite challenging as soon as the sunset begins.

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The game is quite the looker in its own way. Yes the geometry lacks detail but the stark and sterile world rushing past you is part of its charm. Later on you see rockets launching and exploding, possibly hinting at a reason why you might be trying to travel so quickly and once the shadows kick in the world suddenly becomes a lot more imposing. The use of lighting and colour really is excellent, with the game changing as you play through but being clear enough to enable you to focus on what’s important, spatial awareness. Only occasionally were bits of scenery misleading such as one object that appears to have the entrance to a tunnel on it but is in fact a brick wall. I feel Acme may have been involved.

The audio is outstanding with a tension building electro background accented by thuds and thunders of the objects moving around the world and the notes created y pickups. Pickups seem to have been positioned to match up with the beat but that could just be my imagination. Once in motion everything flows beautifully and gets progressively stressful as you approach the night.

One of the extra hooks to the game is that the world changes every day, so while you might struggle to set a decent time today, tomorrow the map will be different and you can give it another go. This worked really well on the Rayman Legends demo on the Wii U and means you don’t end up with one person setting a score so high you feel unmotivated to continue.  There’s also a level editor allowing for user-made levels that can be rated and tried out at will. Sometimes in the main game you’ll find portals that will take you to one of these levels, better just hope it’s a nice one. The editor is simple to use and there is the potential for players to create some crazy environments with clever paths through them. While much of the game appears to take place on a 2D plane there’s no reason why players can’t make use of vertical space too via ramps and jumps.

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Rounding out the package is a multiplayer mode where you can compete as a time but trying a kind of relay. Basically tw0 to four of you set scores over four runs and they get added together, which is  an interesting mechanic I don’t think I’ve seen before in a game. It has its own separate so perhaps we’ll see teams emerging to compete collectively.

Overall Race the Sun is one to watch and if you’re addicted to beating your friends on high-score tables it’s definitely worth a look. There are a few rough edges currently in the beta as you’d expect and the leaderboards are currently rather basic, but the gameplay is there and it’s solid and compelling. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact you need to level up in order to unlock features that help to increase your score and keep you al;ive. You simply can;t compete on the leaderboards until you’ve unlocked most of it, which feels like a false wall that you need to work through. The objectives are simple things like ‘get to level 4’ or ‘complete 5 barrel rolls in a round’ but you can only compete so many in one run so you’ll be grinding out quite a few to get the ability to do things like jump or take part in the relay mode. We’ll be keeping an eye on Race the Sun and bring you a full review once the game is released.

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If you’d like to support the game you can vote for it on Steam Greenlight

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